Owari no Chronicle:Volume4 Chapter 19
Chapter 19: Night of Compensation
What should I say?
I cannot tell the truth no matter what
The more I want to, the more I hesitate
In a small living room, the sounds of a late-night television show played quietly.
This was the Kashima household’s living room.
Two people watched the television while listening to the faint sound of rain from outside.
They were Kashima and Natsu who was leaning up against him.
They sat on cushions and had a table in front of them.
The table contained two sake bottles and two matching sake cups.
“I see you liked the stir-fried sandlance.”
Kashima suddenly realized he kept bringing his chopsticks back to the bowl of small fish.
“The trick is to separately cook the sandlance and the fried tofu in bonito sauce and mix it together later.”
He did not know what effect that had, but the number of fish he had grabbed said plenty.
“It goes well with the sake.”
He took a sip of the sake they rarely brought out.
He then recalled last night’s dinner.
The main dish had been a squash and adzuki bean dish with boiled bamboo shoots wrapped in cured ham.
It had all come together well with the rice and miso soup.
He felt so much better when at home.
It helped that he had someone precious by his side.
Being with her made him feel like he was slowly working through the thoughts which had been bothering him.
Something new filled the place where he had trembled in fear in front of the 3rd Production Room.
What had he chosen?
Everything will be okay, he thought as he went back over his thoughts.
But would Natsu realize where his thoughts were? She carried her thick sake cup to her mouth and laughed quietly in a cat-like voice.
Kashima smiled at that and poured more sake into her cup.
“Oh, Akio-san. Why are you trying to get me drunk? Are you plotting something?”
“I enjoy watching you drink more than drinking myself.”
“Really?” she asked as she took another drink and laughed again.
She then held up her cup.
“Do you remember this? It is from the school trip in our fourth year.”
“Yes. That was when the seminar students were forced to march as slaves in the name of an excavation trip in Inawashiro, wasn’t it? You caused a huge commotion when you got heatstroke.”
“Th-that was my punishment for trying to show off. When I was being sent back to Tokyo, you ran up to me on the platform and gave me this.”
“Your fath-…The professor was a strict person. I thought it was wrong to force you back home without even a souvenir.”
Kashima smiled bitterly as he remembered. He had simply been worried about her, but he had needed an excuse back then. He decided now he should tell her what his true reasons had been.
He tried to tell her he had been worried about her.
But he stopped.
Telling her the truth about that would change nothing in the present.
She was currently observing the thick sake cup in her hand.
“That was quite funny, thinking back. You said you had a souvenir for me, but you handed me this which you can buy at any store. So I asked you why you got me this.” She gave a smile that did not reach her eyes. “And you told me you wanted something that would not break if I dropped it because I can be careless. Of course, there are plenty of other things that would have worked.”
“You were in quite a rush, weren’t you?”
Wow, thought Kashima as he shrank down. She’s got me there.
“That was all I saw at the time. But I never expected you to give me the exact same gift in return after summer break.”
He lightly held up the sake cup in his hand. It was just as thick as hers.
“You got it on some short trip, didn’t you? Your family can be demanding about that kind of thing.”
“I was glad to do it because I wanted to give you something in thanks. But I can be careless, so I wanted to get something I wouldn’t drop and break before I could give it to you.”
…What a horrible way of returning the favor.
Kashima could find nothing to say in response to her smile, so he scratched at his head.
Natsu then nodded wordlessly.
“But my worries were unneeded.” She held up her cup in her left hand. “After all, you were willing to take something even after it had been dropped and broken.”
Still smiling, she drew back a bit.
I see, thought Kashima when he saw that. I made her worry.
He had made his wife bring up the topic he should have headed toward himself. That topic being his true feelings regarding the past.
And so he nodded and spoke.
“Yes?” she said while politely sitting next to him and lowering the television’s volume with the remote. “Is it about your job?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“I do not really know anything about this. I do not know what is causing that uncertain expression of yours or that secretiveness of late. But…that is what lets me know it is related to your job.”
“Have I been worrying you?”
“No. I know you will always ultimately discuss it with me or apologize. After you suddenly bought that expensive video camera, you spent a month bowing down to me and coming home at a normal time every day.”
“Well, a lot of that was because I wanted to use the video camera… But whatever.”
They exchanged a glance and smiled at each other.
After a breath, Natsu brought her hands to her chest.
“It’s okay. I have been drinking, so if I start crying, I can blame it on the alcohol.”
“You’re quite prepared.” Kashima led that statement smoothly into his next. “Can I have about two days? I need to stay over at work to finish an important job. To be honest, I think I won’t want to be in contact with anyone outside the office. And after that…”
“This will happen again from time to time, won’t it? You will occasionally prioritize your work over your home.”
Hearing that, he looked up.
Natsu had her hands against her chest in a way that looked somewhat protective.
…She knows what I am about to say.
And so he nodded without hesitation.
“That is correct,” he said clearly.
“I see,” she said with slightly lowered eyebrows. “Then I will return to the family home while you are gone.”
Someone moved in the darkness.
It was Shinjou as he awoke under the blanket.
After speaking with Sayama at around eight, he had passed out due to pain.
How much time had passed? It felt like an instant, but it could have been hours. He wanted for it to be morning, but the darkness and silence outside the blanket told him it was the middle of the night.
The odd feeling in his stomach remained, but he felt warmth all across his body as he lay curled up while facing the left.
The blanket must have been holding in the heat well because he was not feeling cold at all.
The pain should leave soon, he thought in relief.
He took a breath, the tension left him, and his pulse sounded louder than before. He could feel sweat on his brow, but he did not want to move his hands from his body. It was improper, but he tried to rub his forehead against the sheet to wipe off the sweat.
He suddenly realized his head lay on something like a pillow.
His head was drawn under the blanket, so his head could not be on his pillow.
Wondering what this pillow-like object was, he raised his head.
The cool air outside the blanket touched his face and his night vision told him what it was.
Sayama was sleeping while lightly embracing Shinjou.
His right arm passed below Shinjou’s left cheek and around Shinjou’s back. His left arm was wrapped around Shinjou’s right shoulder and also wrapped around Shinjou’s back.
Shinjou remained silent while held in Sayama’s arms. He more strongly held his own left-facing body and curled up even tighter.
He had seen this composition before. A verse of a song he knew had been made into a painting and that painting showed a holy mother embracing her crying child.
“Christ the Savior is here…”
What is he doing? wondered Shinjou as he muttered a line of the song.
But he knew why that holy mother was embracing her child.
…This is what you do when someone important to you cries.
The feeling of that left hand on his back seemed to bring back a memory of the past.
He had a memory of someone lightly patting his back while he was suffering.
Was this a memory of what Sayama had done just now or was it a memory of Shinjou’s forgotten mother?
It doesn’t matter, he thought. Either way, it is a welcome memory.
Shinjou realized Sayama’s left arm was pinched in at the shoulder a bit.
When Sayama recalled the past, he would bring his right hand to the left side of his chest.
But right now, that arm was being used as Shinjou’s pillow. In that case, what did it mean that his left arm was pinched in like that?
Sorry, he thought. His mother must have done this for him.
Shinjou nodded and looked next to the head of the bed.
The alarm clock said it was just before twelve.
Had Sayama been embracing him for the entire four hours since he had passed out?
Sayama’s expression as he slept was different than the one he had when Shinjou would wake him in the morning.
It was the peaceful expression of someone who had completed a job. He accepted the pain in his chest as normal.
…I need to reconsider my actions.
Before, he had left everything up to his pain, hinted that he would disappear, and tried to force his plot on Sayama.
“Why did I do that?”
…He will eventually read my plot even if I hadn’t done that.
Shinjou pressed his forehead against Sayama’s chest.
“What do you think about me?”
He closed his eyes.
“What will you think about me once you learn my lie?”
Kashima immediately reacted to Natsu’s comment about returning to the family home.
He had expected to hear her say that. She was here because he was here. So if he left…
“That would be best.”
“Yes. It has been a while since I was there, so it should cause some confusion at first.”
But her father drew picture books and loved children. If she brought Harumi with her, he would not scold her or refuse to let her in.
“There will probably be a lot of cleaning to do.”
That was true. Kashima had heard Natsu’s room was untouched from when she had let.
…This is going to be a lot of trouble for her.
She must have realized what he was thinking because she nodded and spoke.
“But it is about time for them to be planting the rice, isn’t it? I like doing that.”
“What? Why are you so confused?”
“Wait a minute, Natsu-san. When you said you would return to the family home, where exactly did you mean?”
“I meant your mother and father’s house, of course.”
She tilted her head as she answered and Kashima felt his strength leave him.
He collapsed backwards and sprawled out on the floor. Tatami mats were horribly cool and comfortable at times like this.
“Ah,” said Natsu as she realized something. “S-sorry. But…um…I am Kashima Natsu now.”
“No, I was the one that jumped to the wrong conclusion. I guess you could call both of them the family home.”
“I-I can’t believe you. I am not the kind of wife that would do that.”
“No, you’re not. You’re really not,” he said as he sat back up.
He crossed his legs and faced forward where Natsu was blushing and giving a troubled expression. He sighed.
“I guess they won’t complain if you suddenly show up.”
“I actually called them today. They hinted that they were shorthanded for planting the rice, so I thought I would go help if you were leaving for a while.” She stared at him. “They should give us some rice, so I can go, right?”
“I get the feeling my parents are bribing my wife with food… But what about Harumi?”
“Your mother says she will teach me a new way to hold her. It apparently involves supporting her on my back with a sash. I will probably get to hear how she carried you around like that.”
“Sorry, but I think I’m going to buy a hidden microphone tomorrow. Please let me monitor what they say.”
He smiled bitterly. He felt bad for Natsu’s family, but this was better for him.
He almost apologized out loud, but he stopped himself.
“I know this is a lot of trouble for you, but I still can’t tell you about my job.”
He slowly reached out and took Natsu’s left hand. That hand was missing the ring and little fingers. He enclosed the remaining fingers in his hands and she asked a question.
“That means you are lying to me in the sense that you are hiding the truth, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. I have been ever since I took your hand like this for the first time.”
“Then for this upcoming job are you returning to who you were before you took my hand?”
“Yes. I will return to the person I was before I left the university and met you on that rainy night.”
“I see,” she said as she tilted her head a bit.
She took a breath, smiled with the ends of her eyebrows lowered, and asked another question.
“Does this job have anything to do with this hand of mine?”
Kashima responded clearly to Natsu’s question and the gaze she directed straight at him.
“It does. But I can’t say any more than that.”
“I see,” she said again before biting her lower lip for a few seconds.
But she did not lower her head. She continued staring straight at him and asked yet another question.
“But things will remain the same at home, right?”
“They will. Just as before, I will continue to lie.”
Natsu’s expression changed. She formed a smile with lowered eyebrows and lowered her head.
“Please do. And do not apologize. Do not sacrifice yourself for the life Harumi and I have.”
Before she could use her right hand to wipe her eye, he let go of her other hand.
He used his own hands to wipe both of her cheeks.
She narrowed her eyes and took a single rough breath.
“Akio-san, I don’t know, do I?’
“I… I married you without fully knowing you, so it would be a problem if you did not continue lying.”
Natsu’s words caused Kashima to tense up.
Seeing that, she raised her head and spoke in a mischievous voice.
“And I lie to you too, you know?”
Her teary face smiled a bit.
“Yes. About my childhood, about my mischief and romantic relationships as a student, about my parents, and about my relationships with people at my workplace now. I…I lie a lot too.”
Tears spilled from her arched eyes.
“You’re such a liar, Akio-san. You’re Yamato Takeru.”
“Th-that’s kind of ominous. According to the legend, didn’t Yamato Takeru’s wife Ototachibana-hime drown herself to calm a storm?”
“Yes, but a liar’s wife will of course be a liar. She drowned herself, but she did not actually want that. That is why there is more to the story.”
Natsu grabbed Kashima’s hands as he wiped away her tears.
“Yamato Takeru searched for her and found her washed up on a certain beach. That beach was named Soga because she was brought back to life there. That beach is in Chiba, near Tokyo.” She took a breath. “Soga means to resurrect oneself. That is just like the two of us, isn’t it?”
“And afterwards, Yamato Takeru continued his work and died of fatigue. But neither he nor his wife died while lost in their lies. The world is a harsh place. But try not to work yourself to death.”
She raised her head and the motion caused some tears to fall from the corners of her eye. She then smiled once more.
“Now, I have a request for our family’s Great God Kashima and Yamato Takeru.”
“What is it, our family’s Ototachibana-hime and crybaby wife?”
Natsu blushed, but her expression quickly calmed down.
“You can work if you like. You can lie if you like. You can get wrapped up in late-night violence with that delinquent Atsuta-san and his motorcycle if you like.” She took a breath. “But please always return home.”
He had a single answer. He very nearly said “testament”, but caught himself.
He embraced her, took her left hand, and gently kissed it.
She looked troubled, but brought the missing part of her hand toward his mouth.
The stumps of the two fingers had slight depressions due to the wrinkles.
When he pecked at them, she laughed quietly.
As he licked her scars, she trembled a bit and spoke.
“For me, this place – including the lies – is the truth.”
Her outstretched hand tasted of sweat which slightly resembled the flavor of blood.
She had appeared calm as they had spoken, but she must have been nervous.
The same as me, thought Kashima as he held her firmly in his left arm.
She would be able to hear his pulse now.
“I will return home and I will not apologize. That alone is most definitely not a lie.”
Natsu looked up even though her eyes were closed and he removed his mouth from her hand.
He would do what he must do where he was wanted.
He once more heard the sound of rain from outside.
“What is it?”
He looked over at her, but she was smiling without fearing the rain.
“I feel bad doing this to Haru-chan.”
She made a quiet request.
“But can you give a little of your time to only me?”
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